Boxing Day drowning a tragedy

A BOXING Day swim at Ballina has ended in tragedy for a Brisbane man holidaying in the region.

The 54-year-old was standing on a sandbank at Lighthouse Beach with his 16-year-old son from Melbourne before they were swept into deeper water by a strong rip.

Surf Life Saving NSW State Duty Officer Jim Keough said it was frustrating that the pair had been swimming just 200m south of the patrolled area of the beach.

“If they had swum between the flags, they would have been in a safer area for swimming,” he said.

“It’s just tragic that this wouldn’t have happened if they swam between the flags.”

Mr Keough said the pair had been swimming at the incoming tide.

“There was lots of movement in the water and a strong southerly rip running along the beach, which is how the gentleman was moved along further,” he said.

Northern NSW Lifeguard co-ordinator Scott McCartney said the volunteer lifesavers “did everything they could” to save the father and son.

“They had the numbers, but there was a real strong sweep down there and the father had gone under halfway down the beach,” he said.

Mr McCartney said the water conditions at the time were a lot rougher than they had been throughout the week, catching tourists unaware.

Mr Keough said after the strong waves knocked the father and son off the sandbank the couple struggled in the water before a person swimming nearby went to their aid.

“At that stage the father was floating on his back, and the member of the public asked about his welfare,” Mr Keough said.

Mr McCartney said the nearby swimmer alerted lifesavers about the father and son.

“The young kid basically made his way into shore by himself, but had some assistance from volunteer lifesavers,” he said.

Mr Keough said the father was then “dumped by a couple of waves”. He failed to resurface.

After the teen was rescued and taken ashore, lifesavers from the Ballina Lighthouse and Lismore Surf Lifesaving Club continued to search for the missing father using jet skis and the rubber duckie from the surf club with assistance from Ballina Jetboat Rescue.

Mr Keough said the man’s body was recovered near the North Wall entrance to the Richmond River 20 minutes later, a further 200m south from where the couple had originally been swimming.

“They commenced CPR on him straightaway, and he was transported to the Richmond River where we rendezvoused with the ambulance,” he said.

However, he was pronounced dead due to suspected drowning.

A post-mortem examination is expected to be carried out early this week.

“The message is to swim between the flags,” Mr Keough said.

“The conditions can change very fast, and we are coming up to some big king tides at the end of the month.”

Patrol hours for beaches in the area are from 9am until 5pm each day.

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